Tag Archives: Jared Kushner

Don’t Let A Crisis Go To Waste…A Grifter’s Perspective…

Usually, when a politician says “don’t let a crisis go to waste,” the meaning is: “let’s take advantage of this crisis to move policy in the direction we think it should go.” It implies recognition that crises are often opportunities for positive change.

A report from NBC News is a reminder that not letting a crisis go to waste means something rather different to folks whose only goal is to make a profit–and that we have a federal administration just chock-full of grifters who think that way

It seems that, as the country hunkered down, DuPont convened a crisis team, charged with  figuring out how to increase production of personal protective equipment (PPE). DuPont has a patented material called Tyvek, which its distributors sell between $5 to $15 apiece to hospitals, and according to NBC, by early March, DuPont’s factory in Richmond, Virginia, was cranking out Tyvek.

In non-crisis times, it can take up to three months to turn Tyvek into body suits, because DuPont usually ships the fabric to Vietnam, where the body suits are sewn. So when the federal government offered to pay for chartered flights to reduce the round trip for 750,000 items to 10 days, DuPont agreed.

Then DuPont sold the suits to a third-party distributor for approximately $4 each, according to company documents it provided to NBC News, and that distributor sold them to the government. The company initially declined to say how much the Department of Health and Human Services paid for 750,000 suits, and it refused to identify the third-party distributor or say how much that firm charged the federal government.

“We actually helped get raw materials supplied from Richmond, Virginia, and we flew that s— to Vietnam, all so that DuPont could sell us” their products, said a senior federal official involved in the coronavirus effort.

Trump, of course, bragged that the deal was evidence of his administration’s excellent efforts to provide PPE.

NBC–and a number of government insiders–have a different view.

[F]or some government officials familiar with the supply-chain end of the coronavirus fight, it was yet another example of Trump’s task force serving industry as the White House tried to corner the market on medical supplies.

For weeks, Trump has resisted pressure to use the full power of his office to temporarily turn the private sector into an arm of the federal government in a national emergency. He and his lieutenants instead have used the crisis to make federal assets and personnel a support group for industry, rather than the other way around, according to NBC News’ interviews with dozens of public- and private-sector sources involved in various aspects of the coronavirus response.

In doing so, the vice president’s coronavirus task force — mostly through a supply-chain unit led by Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, vice director of logistics for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and heavily influenced by White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law — has favored some of the nation’s largest corporations and ignored smaller producers of goods and services with long track records of meeting emergency needs, according to officials at multiple federal agencies and people familiar with contracting.

They have operated almost entirely in the dark, releasing few details of their arrangements with the big companies; created a new and convoluted emergency response system; and sown confusion and distrust in the states and among the people who need medical supplies.

The supply-chain group is just one part of the task force run by Vice President Mike Pence. That task force is routinely described by insiders as chaotic, secretive and inept. According to the NBC report (and numerous others, including Governors, local officials and veterans of federal emergency response), it has deeply complicated the national fight against the pandemic.

We don’t know much, because transparency is clearly not a priority of this administration; however, there are two priorities that–according to off-the-record officials–definitely remain:  private profit and the ability of the White House to choose where supplies go.

A friend of mine used to say that the whole point of holding political office was to help your friends and screw your enemies. Whatever the truth of that cynical maxim, it may be the only political principle guiding the know-nothing grifters in this administration…

 

We Need Reassurance And This Isn’t It….

A number of media outlets have recently reported that Jared Kushner has been “tasked” with oversight of the administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

That’s evidently in addition to his “task” of bringing peace to the Middle East, and Vice President Mike Pence’s “task” of heading up the dysfunctional White House pandemic Task Force. Two recent columns have addressed this latest assignment handed to Wonder Boy, both by New York Times columnists.

I usually find Maureen Dowd too self-consciously cute for my tastes, but her column on Trump, Kushner and the pandemic is dead-on. She spent the bulk of her column inches on Trump’s incompetence, but it was her description of Kushner that resonated with me.

At the Thursday briefing, the president brought out another wealthy, uninformed man-child who loves to play boss: Jared Kushner. Where’s our Mideast peace deal, dude? Surely Trump did not think giving Kushner a lead role would inspire confidence. This is the very same adviser who told his father-in-law early on that the virus was being overplayed by the press and also urged him to tout a Google website guiding people to testing sites that turned out to be, um, still under construction.

Now he is leading a group, mocked within the government as “the Slim Suit crowd,” that is providing one more layer of confusion — and inane consultant argot — to the laggardly, disorganized response.

From the lectern, Kushner drilled down on his role as the annoying, spoiled kid in every teen movie ever made. “And the notion of the federal stockpile was, it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

There has been a predictable uproar over Kushner’s description of “our stockpile,” but it was precisely the sort of arrogant ignorance that we’ve come to expect from someone  perfectly described as the “annoying spoiled kid in every teen movie ever made.”

Michelle Goldberg’s column was a more serious analysis of the insanity of Jared’s most recent “tasking.” Here’s her lede:

Reporting on the White House’s herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

As Goldberg notes, Jared Kushner has had exactly three”successes” thus far in his life: being born to rich parents, marrying well, and influencing his father-in-law.  Other endeavors —” his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.”

(No wonder he gets along so well with Trump–they have similar trajectories…and similar delusions of competence. But I digress.)

“Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday. This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The author of a book about the Kushner family described Jared thusly: “he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Like his father-in-law. (In the quotable words of Rick Wilson, “Everything he touches dies.”)

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books — have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support. Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Now, in our hour of existential horror, Kushner is making life-or-death decisions for all Americans, showing all the wisdom we’ve come to expect from him.

I have repeatedly described Trump’s White House as a cross between the Keystone Kops and the Mafia. To which I should add that all of them are walking, talking illustrations of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Gee–I wonder why I’m not reassured….?

 

 

Corporatism On Display

I used to be persuaded by arguments from “big Pharma” that the enormous costs of research and development justified the sometimes staggering prices of new drugs.

That justification seemed eminently reasonable, until I learned some inconvenient facts. For example, the amounts drug companies spend on television advertising (“ask your doctor for the purple pill”) exceeds the amounts they spend on research and development. And for another example, significant percentages of those front-end R and D costs are paid for by citizens’ tax dollars, through government research and grants.

Those discoveries left me disgusted, but unsurprised, by recent reporting from Pro Publica.

Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tried to plug a crucial hole in its preparations for a global pandemic, signing a $13.8 million contract with a Pennsylvania manufacturer to create a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ventilator that could be stockpiled for emergencies.

This past September, with the design of the new Trilogy Evo Universal finally cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, HHS ordered 10,000 of the ventilators for the Strategic National Stockpile at a cost of $3,280 each.

But as the pandemic continues to spread across the globe, there is still not a single Trilogy Evo Universal in the stockpile.

Instead last summer, soon after the FDA’s approval, the Pennsylvania company that designed the device — a subsidiary of the Dutch appliance and technology giant Royal Philips N.V. — began selling two higher-priced commercial versions of the same ventilator around the world

When Trump belatedly invoked the Defense Production Act, forcing General Motors to begin mass-producing a different company’s ventilator (for which taxpayers will also pay), no one even mentioned the Trilogy Evo Universal.

Nor did HHS officials explain why they did not force Philips to accelerate delivery of these ventilators earlier this year, when it became clear that the virus was overwhelming medical facilities around the world.

An HHS spokeswoman told ProPublica that Philips had agreed to make the Trilogy Evo Universal ventilator “as soon as possible.” However, a Philips spokesman said the company has no plan to even begin production anytime this year.

Instead, Philips is negotiating with a White House team led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to build 43,000 more complex and expensive hospital ventilators for Americans stricken by the virus.

It’s despicably corrupt to use a pandemic to–excuse my phrasing here–suck even more deeply at the public tit. But it is the foreseeable result of America’s thoughtless, decades-long embrace of “privatization” and “public-private partnerships,” which have all too often simply been a more sophisticated form of patronage. Old-style patronage–whatever its flaws– mostly benefitted working people; you helped to get out the vote and if your candidate won, you got a (usually low-level) job with the city. Now, you write a nice fat check to the candidate and your company gets a lucrative contract with the city. (And no one gets out the vote, which is a different problem..)

As Pro Publica reported,

The story of the Trilogy Evo Universal, described here for the first time, also raises questions about the government’s reliance on public-private partnerships that public health officials have used to piece together important parts of their disaster safety net.

“That’s the problem of leaving any kind of disaster preparedness up to the market and market forces — it will never work,” said Dr. John Hick, an emergency medicine specialist in Minnesota who has advised HHS on pandemic preparedness since 2002. “The market is not going to give priority to a relatively no-frills but dependable ventilator that’s not expensive.”

Reagan began what has since become a concerted attack on the very idea of government–an attack that has benefitted corporations and businesses in a position to profit, but has eroded (“hollowed out” in the words of one scholar) the capacity of government to act on behalf of the common good.

We are about to see what happens–and how many people needlessly die–when what is left of our hollowed-out governing institutions is incompetent and corrupt.